Resistance exercise, strength training, pumping iron. Call it what you will, it’s fun, rewarding and has many significant health benefits. Strength training is basically any exercise that uses resistance to contract muscles. This includes lifting weights, using the machines at the gym, using resistance bands or even just exercises that use your own body weight such as press ups. There are many different reasons why people choose to employ strength training as part of their exercise regime, but no matter why you do it, you’ll still be getting all of the benefits it has to offer.
There is a misconception that strength training will make you blow up into an Arnold-Schwarzenegger-like hulk, but in almost all cases this isn’t true. While it is certainly possible to get bigger muscles through strength training, you need to specifically train (and eat) to make that happen. Most people, especially women, will simply achieve a firmer, more “toned” physique, fat loss and a feeling of increased energy and wellbeing. Arnie didn’t get to where he is by doing the circuit at the local 24-hour gym twice a week!
One of the most obvious benefits of strength training is that you will get stronger. Stronger muscles provide better posture, joint support and bone density. This is especially important for women who are at a greater risk of osteoporosis and arthritis than men. It is never too late to benefit from this either, and studies have shown multiple benefits in people who start weight training in their 80s and even 90s.
Strength training also stimulates the cardiovascular system, can lower elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels and, when combined with a balanced diet, is a very effective fat loss tool. A decent workout not only burns energy while you’re training, but can boost your metabolism for up to 12 hours afterwards too. Strength training can also significantly improve sporting performance and reduce your chance of injury while you’re being active. It’s also a great way to rehabilitate an existing injury, although professional advice should be sought on the best way to approach this.
Another effect of any exercise is an increase in the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and adrenaline. This can have the effect of elevating your mood, reducing depression and anxiety and triggering the reward mechanisms in your brain. Coupled with the improvements in health and appearance, and the sense of achievement and confidence you get, it’s one of the best things you can do to feel good.
There are hundreds of different ways to structure strength training workouts depending on your goals. You can change the speed of the movement, the amount of weight, the number of repetitions and/or sets, and of course which exercises you do. Exercises that involve more than one joint (eg: elbows AND shoulders) are known as “compound exercises” and these are the most efficient as they will engage several muscle groups at once in the same movement
Strength training combined with some kind of aerobic exercise (such as walking or swimming) and a balanced, nutritious diet is a winning strategy for long-term health and happiness. The key is to find out what works for you, what you enjoy doing, and stick to it!